I seem to be one of the few people left in the country who have any real hopes for Annapolis. I admit that my optimism has been somewhat lessened by the barrage of negative media reports about the negotiations. Perhaps I should speak about "annapolis" with a small "a" as it does seem apparent that the joint declaration will inevitably be less than what I had hoped for when the negotiations first began. Under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, in partnership with our own Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, I spent last week in Washington with a joint team of Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. Our group included four members of Knesset, three from Kadima: Menahem Ben Sasson, Amira Dotan, Yohanan Plesner and Labor's Collette Avital; and four senior Fatah personalities - Kadura Faris, Ziad Abu Zayaad, Sahar Kawasmi and Issa Kassassieh. WE WENT to Washington on a kind of fact-finding mission to see what the administration was planning and to provide support and encouragement for the Annapolis process. We brought to Washington a group of responsible leaders who together voiced support for Annapolis and for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas. The following are our insights and conclusions from our DC meetings:
There is a shared, deep sense of concern - on both sides of the ocean - that Annapolis must succeed, failure is not an option, the consequences of failure are too severe. Annapolis is not going to be a negotiating forum; everything must be concluded prior to arriving there.
Annapolis is the launching of the process, and not a photo-op. The day after must be well planned and thought out now before the Annapolis meeting takes place. There must be specific benchmarks included as part of the process which must include three parallel tracks: Phase I of the road map, economic development and improvements, and negotiations on the core issues.
The US must have full-time staff at the highest levels engaged and leading the process. Even a secretary of state who is investing so much of her time in the process cannot work on this one issue full-time. This administration has until now avoided appointing a full-time peace process leader and staff - now is the time to change that policy.
In Washington we were told by everyone that we met that the secretary has the full backing of the president and has the authority to use the weight of the office of the president.
Road map obligations must be specified and standardized. The extent to which the parties can argue over the interpretation of their obligations is much too wide. The US should table a document spelling out the exact expectations regarding all the obligations of both sides. Implementation of Phase I must be parallel and not sequential - both sides must be fully engaged in implementing at the same time what they have already committed themselves to do.
The US and the Quartet must serve as monitor and verifier, and there must be a specific address for monitoring and verification. A trilateral committee representing the secretary, the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president must work together in the monitoring and verification process.
There must be a paradigm shift in dealing with crisis management. Everyone knows that, as in the past, when and if (God forbid) there is a terrorist attack it has the potential to derail the entire process. The extremists are in possession of a veto power to our ability to make peace.
When and if there are crisis events they must be dealt with in full partnership and consultation in developing the responses. Both sides must have equal responsibility and political will to confront any crisis event that may develop. When we find ourselves in such events, it is essential that the Israeli and Palestinians leaders work together in designing and implementing the response.
If the Palestinians truly stand behind their commitment to fighting terror, they must be a full partner with Israel in responding to terror events.
Economic development must be immediate and must be felt at the street level. Manageable and doable projects must be immediately implemented, including infrastructure, housing, hospitals, schools, and job-creating projects.
Israel should remove as many barriers and obstacles as possible within real security needs to allow for the Palestinians to advance these projects. Most of them will have to be implemented in areas where Israel is still in full control.
IN DECEMBER the international community will meet in Paris to make their financial pledges in the support of building the Palestinian state. The US should be willing to match, dollar for dollar, all the money raised in Paris. The Arab world (especially Saudi Arabia) must be encouraged to do the same.
Immediately after Annapolis, joint working groups should be created to work on the core issues. These working groups should develop options and alternatives for each one of the issues and for devising various packages of trade-offs.
The Quartet should also work on relaunching the multilateral working groups on regional arms control, economic development, water and the environment, as a way of successfully engaging and enlisting the international community in support of the process.
THIS IS a most complex and high-risk process. With so much failure on the record books it is too easy to predict another failure. It will take a lot of courage, determination and hard work to make it succeed. The US must serve as an effective broker.
The president and the secretary know all the issues in depth. The US team should already be working on a set of what could be called "the Bush parameters" for the core issues.
With 14 months of his administration left, President Bush should give his ideas to the Israelis and Palestinians soon after Annapolis and not wait until the negotiations get snagged.
The Israeli-Palestinian political cooperation we demonstrated this week is not something Washington is used to. The group we brought there signaled that the Middle East could still provide some good news.
It won't happen by itself. The US has an opportunity to redemonstrate its global leadership and, as these courageous Israeli and Palestinians have shown, peace is within reach.